Nam June Paik Art Center is pleased to present the first permanent exhibition of 2013, Gentle Disturbance – Talking Paik with the temporary exhibition Tireless Refrain. These two exhibitions, the themes of which are linked with each other, will shed light on how artists can reveal their political and critical points of view regarding society without losing their artistic power of expression.
Gentle Disturbance – Talking Paik
With increasing polarization between the old and new generations, political movements opposed to the existing social order ceaselessly occurred in Europe and America in the ’60s and ’70s. This was also the case in the sectors of art and culture. Such artists as Nam June Paik in their attempts to change the world employed video as a medium that could be shared with a larger audience. Video was an important tool for artists to challenge social absurdities.
The exhibition Gentle Disturbance – Talking Paik begins with Guadalcanal Requiem, considered Paik’s most politically conscious work. The site of one of the most devastating battles in World War II, Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, provides the material for Guadalcanal Requiem, in which Paik not only comments on the destructive war but also challenges social taboos. Guadalcanal Requiem was premiered as part of the concert Jail to Jungle at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1977. The jail here refers to the incident where Charlotte Moorman was arrested for the performance Opera Sextronique in 1967, in which she played the cello unclothed. Paik questioned social conventions by bringing issues of sexuality to the foreground in music and criticizing classical music, which was too often treated in a serious and sacred manner.
Calling attention to the memory and trauma experienced by war victors and victims, Paik caused gentle disturbance by his ways of working with video transcending time and space in Guadalcanal Requiem. This exhibition presents the works and materials of Paik’s ‘gentle disturbance,’ including Guadalcanal Requiem and Opera Sextronique, which raise questions about the meaning of political art and the nature of social participation.
Curated by Yujean Rhee.
A refrain is a repeated phrase inserted throughout a song or poem, which is less to do with conveying a central theme directly, but more to do with creating an image through repetition. The recurring verse is, however, meant not only to give a formal pleasure or to complement the content, but also to reveal the most political intention in the most artistic way, as in a Greek tragedy, whose chorus speaks for the audience or produces a satire on characters. The title Tireless Refrain is derived from the fact that the artist’s practice could be reminiscent of the role that the refrain plays in terms of generating politicalness simply through repetition. This exhibition aims to put together those works that seek to make a social critique by repeating and reiterating a specific act.
There are some artists who pose political questions by drawing on repetitive actions in a highly charged field, but not advocating a certain political position or rallying cry. The artist gets into a community of emigrant workers, not to fight for solving a political problem right away, but to participate in their daily activities and organize a festival for them and to intervene in trivial and miscellaneous matters of their everyday life (Mixrice); ordinary objects are put forth which seemingly appear mundane but turn out to be entangled in social tragedies (Sanghee Song); the artist adopts a peaceful performance carried out in Green Line, a borderline area between Israel and Palestine (Francis Alÿs), or a non-intermittent filmic record of a labor camp in the UAE by a 100-meter camera track set up over the course of eleven days (Melik Ohanian); the artist’s strategies also include paying people for doing what the artist asks to do, in which native people learn Spanish, the language they do not understand, or foreign immigrants dye hair blonde, or participants incline and shore up a gallery wall (Santiago Sierra).
Dealing with political matters, other artists choose to disclose hierarchical orders without reservation or refer to notions of power metaphorically, in a situation that does not look political at all. The aforementioned artists relate to politics, while the following artists to the political. The parody of an educational television program demonstrates the artificiality of instruction and contemporary art (Beom Kim); the entrance walls collected from different exhibitions become the artist’s work itself (Soosung Lee); physical arrangements in the gallery space contribute to exposing social absurdities (Wan Lee); the video about conditions for perfect table manners, which is edited and fast-forwarded, lays bare the hyperbole of conventions (Ana Hušman); the oppressive effect of immigration interviews is acted out in the form of church mass (Nadia Kaabi-Linke). All these works are concerned with the preconceptions that are at work unconsciously in art institutions but hard to do away with, which are made to resurface, sometimes to become a travesty, in the works of these artists.
Whether it be the penetration into politics itself, or the micropolitics of making visible the invisible power, the above artists have it in common that their being political arises from the fidelity to sensory perception. It is expected that this exhibition will show how the kind of art that is not subordinate to politics could bring in a critical perspective on realities.
Participants: Beom Kim, Mixrice, Sanghee Song, Santiago Sierra, Francis Alÿs, Melik Ohanian, Soosung Lee, Wan Lee, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Ana Hušman
Curated by Sohyun Ahn.
Various events, such as a sound performance and round tables, will also be presented along with the exhibition. On the opening day there will be a sound performance by Sungbae Kim, On Kim, Yongchang Yi and Sungu Cho. During the exhibition, a series of round tables by artists, critics and theorists will be held to facilitate the understanding of the exhibition’s theme.
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Nam June Paik Art Center is supported by Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation and Gyeonggi Province.